Artists are entrepreneurs; they have to market themselves and their work, and experiment and take risks in order to find what people like. Art as an industry has transformed alongside culture and the contemporary economy. Our Internet age has changed the market and artists have to be creative as they navigate that new frontier.
Gallery 49 in Reading, Michigan allows local artists to exhibit, sell, receive feedback on, and gain inspiration for their art, ranging from woodcarvings and mosaics to paintings and photography. Gallery 49 artist Rhonda Peters creates polymer clay sculptures and has written the children’s story “What Does the Monkey Know?” based on a piece she submitted to Grand Rapids’ Art Prize.
“Social media is big for me, how to use it and manipulate it to your advantage,” Peters said. “There’s a knack to using Facebook and being friendly about putting your art on there. There’s ways to intrigue people to play with your art as you’re making it and being part of that process.”
It is not just the sculpting arts that receive help in marketing from the Internet, but also actors, designers, and musicians.
“More and more of the business is becoming self-promoting,” Professor of Theatre George Angell said. “Your success as a performer is a self-made thing. Every actor needs to have a website, a Twitter account, the ability for people to find them online — see what they do online. If you’re in the voice-over business, people put out samples of their voices online and the kinds of voices they do.”
While there is a growing focus on self-promotion online, physical galleries aim to help artists transition from promoting themselves as a business to forming a co-op that shares costs.
“It’s a lot easier having people coming through the door to us than me loading a trailer and going to the various shows,” handmade paper artist Jan Heckenlively said.
Pastel artist Jamee Carpenter agrees.
“Being with the gallery provides an opportunity I couldn’t have on my own,” Carpenter said. “I couldn’t afford a gallery this size. The support of having the building, the people doing the work, that’s a big part of it.”
The structure of art opportunities has also been transformed by governmental involvement, according to sculpture professor Anthony Frudakis.
Frudakis said in the late 19th and early 20th century, projects like war memorials were made available by private money, coming from people like J.P. Morgan and Andrew Carnegie. They supported philanthropic missions and felt the social responsibility to give back.
In the past 50 years, however, projects like these have become institutionalized by state, local, and federal organizations, like the National Endowment for the Arts and the General Services Administration, through the “Percent for Art” program.
“The danger I see with that is you have people in one region of the country commissioning art for parts of the country which they know very little about,” Frudakis said. “We have a disconnect very often between what the general population’s taste may be and what’s being chosen for them.”
There may be a distance-driven disconnect where government and art is concerned, but for the individual, with the help of the Internet, the world of accessible art is growing.
“Internet sales have helped artists present and market their works in profitable ways,” professor of art Sam Knecht said. “We require art majors to establish personal websites. We know of many artists who are enjoying sales of work through the Internet.”
Renee Surprenant, technical director in theatre arts, echoed this idea, saying for designers especially, an online portfolio is essential for exposure to potential employers.
For theatre, Actors’ Access will personalize opportunities to job-seekers based on their age and interests, according to Angell.
However, the Internet has completely transformed the art industry and the opportunities available to them.
For actors, most people performing are working across mediums, not just in theater, but film, TV, commercials, and voice acting.
Angell said the greatest challenge for actors is the travel. It’s hard for them to settle down because if they want employment, they’ll probably have to go to different places, unless they live in a place where there is a large market for it, like New York or Los Angeles.
Especially for voice-overs and podcasts, the Internet has made it possible to record and work from home.
“If you get a job doing that, you end up doing your recording at home on your computer and sending it in via the Internet instead of going into a studio,” Angell said. “The business is changing. All that stuff is online.”
Growth in technology has completely transformed the music industry as well.
Chris McCourry is a professor of music and also a part of the McQ5 jazz band that plays for Broad Street Market’s Underground. McCourry lamented the loss of artists making money for their music due to the transition to digital downloads.
“Nowadays there’s no such thing as CD sales anymore,” McCourry said. “It wasn’t that long ago there was such a thing as record sales. People made money selling CDs. All that money went to the artist. That just doesn’t exist anymore. Then how do musicians make money? That’s what we’re trying to figure out. Maybe it opens up new and better things, but right now there’s a lot of unknown to it.”
Musicians can record their work and upload it to YouTube easily today, which increases competition, according to Gary Wolfram, a professor of economics whose son works in the music industry.Wolfram explained how in in the 60s, people bought rock and roll vinyl 45’s, which contained a hit song heard on the radio with another song on the opposite side. Soon, whole albums were on vinyl. This brought about the rock and roll tours that promoted the album. Tickets would be sold at inexpensive prices so that the tickets would sell fast.
“You wanted the show to sell out right away,” Wolfram said. “You set the price where the demand would exceed supply. So then people say, ‘Oh my gosh, Rolling Stones tour. Wow, it’s sold out in five minutes, so that should be a good album.’”
The introduction of digital CD’s, however, led the way to property rights issues.
“You guys would have no qualms copying that CD onto somebody else’s computer, but they would not steal the same CD from Checker Records,” Wolfram said.
Spotify and Internet downloads only increase the amount of free music, one of the reasons singer Taylor Swift pulled all her music from Spotify Monday.
Since music is now essentially free, the music sells the tour. Listeners enjoy the songs they download, which makes them want to see the performance live. Consumers purchase experiences today.The tour is not duplicable, so musicians can sell tickets for $200, when they used to be $10.
“Now you can buy single songs, like they were doing in 1960,” Wolfram said. “But, guess what’s coming back? Records. Go down to Checker Records. You can buy a vinyl right now. Now that’s the new thing again. You have a vinyl record you can look at, you can hold it. Where with the MP3, you can hear it, but now we’re saying the experience is different. First of all it’s analog, not digital, so it’s going to sound a little bit different, and you have a physical object.”
Perhaps this cycle of everything old is new again will continue to persist, but one thing is for sure: with the advances in technology, the business of art will never be the same.
“In the old days, there were barriers to entry,” Wolfram said. “Today, there’s lots of ways to enter the industry.”